Estimated energy billing rip-offs – are you paying too much?

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Questions asked around gas billing

When was the last time you took a really close look at your energy bill? Are you paying for the energy you actually use, or is your supplier applying an estimate? If so, you could be paying up to 6 times more than you should!

Meter readers go AWOL

Grab your latest gas bill and have look at your usage amounts.

  • Find the section detailing your meter number. Here there should be information about the date the meter was read, and the start and end reading for the billing period.
  • Now the important bit – under ‘Read type’, does it say ‘actual’, or ‘estimate’?
  • If it says estimate, it means your supplier has no idea how much gas you’ve actually used. They’ve just taken a guess and billed you based on an estimate.

Why is my bill an estimate, and not for actual usage?

  • Energy companies send a meter reader to your property every 3 months to read your meter and measure actual usage.
  • However if the meter reader can’t gain access to the meter – perhaps because it’s behind a locked gate, or due to dog or other issues, then your bill will instead be based on an estimate.
  • This estimate will be based on your past usage, or on the usage of similar households in your area.
  • Many customers insist they’re being subjected to estimated reads when access to their meter was available. They say meter readers simply aren’t taking a reading.

Some billed estimates are 3 times more than actual usage

  • Whether an estimated reading works in your favour or not depends on a few factors, but you can be pretty sure that in the majority of cases, it’s the energy companies who are pocketing the win, and not you!
  • Some customers have complained that their estimated usage is 2 or 3 times their actual usage.
  • Unfortunately, when they’ve contacted their energy company with the actual reading, they’ve then been given the run around and it’s taking months to get their bills reduced and corrected.

Direct debit customers hardest hit

  • If you’re on a direct debit arrangement, your supplier debits your account for the billed amount, leaving you to chase it back if it’s not right!
  • Customers on low incomes or who don’t have much cash in the bank can then be hit with overdraw fees and charges by their bank, adding to their financial pressures.

Customer complaints on the rise

  • Complaints about estimated usage billing have soared. In New South Wales, for example, over the past 18 months there’s been 300 – 500 complaints each quarter to the Energy and Water Ombudsman NSW Office’s (EWON).
  • There’s a heap of case studies on the EWON website, detailing customer frustration over estimated usage causing unnecessarily high bills.
  • Fortunately, it seems energy companies are starting to see sense. AGL have agreed to start treating customer-provided meter readings as “higher quality” than their network’s estimated reads.
  • Hopefully this will mean fairer bill charges for customers in future.

What can you do?

  • Make sure there’s clear and easy access to your meter around the time a reading is due. Your bill should always indicate when the next read is due to occur.
  • Each time you get an energy bill, check if the meter reading is an ‘actual’ or an estimate’. Either way, it’s a good idea to compare the listed meter reading against your meter to check it’s accurate.
  • Contact your energy supplier immediately if you see an issue.
  • If they don’t resolve the situation to your satisfaction, you can complain to the Energy and Water Ombudsman in your State or Territory.